Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount, N.C.) running back Mason Hines explodes out of the backfield so fast that you’d swear his 4.5-second 40-yard dash was clocked with a defective stopwatch.
He can stop on a dime so precise that he makes would-be tacklers stars in his highlight videos, and once he hits the sideline… Fah-getta-bout-it.
“You’re not catching me, unless you play for Oregon or something,” said Hines of the notoriously fast Ducks.
Still, for all those reasons and more, the opposing team’s defense has one mission coming into a game.
“They want to take me out,” said Hines, a senior. “It’s not something I think, it’s something they tell me all game. That’s just how it is in this game. They know who I am and who the rest of the key guys are on our team and they tell us the whole game. That’s their goal.”
It’s not exactly the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, where coaches and players shelled out cash to teammates who injured the opposing team’s stars, but elite players maintain that the goal of taking them out of commission, even briefly, is well known among players.
St. Pius X Catholic (Atlanta) star Nick Glass plays both ways for the Golden Lions and said that as a running back “injury threats” are as common as touchdowns.
“I don’t remember a game when I didn’t get threatened by another player saying I wouldn’t finish the whole game,” said Glass, a junior who doubles as a safety and is committed to Georgia. “A lot of my friends play football and say the same thing. It’s the law of the jungle out here. The reality is if I stay down after a hit and they have to call the trainers out, the guy who hit me is gonna get hi-fives from his whole team and all his coaches. That’s just the truth.”
Carl Lawson, an Auburn commit, disagreed. He said there’s nothing “as despicable as a bounty going on in high school football.”
“Paid or unpaid,” said Lawson, a senior defensive end at Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.). “I want to hit you hard and make you think about quitting, but there’s a difference between that and wanting to hurt someone. That’s just terrible. I personally don’t want to see anyone hurt. That’s sick.”
Be that as it may, football is a violent sport on any level and, intentions aside, when the culture is built around bravado and physicality, injuries abound.
Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount, N.C.) coach Jason Battle said his basic message to his players is to “be physical.”
“You do single out certain players; that’s a part of the game plan and scouting properly,” Battle said. “I’d never tell my players to intentionally hurt a kid -- of course not, that’s crazy -- but I do tell them to be aggressive. This is football and it’s a contact sport, and you’ve got to let the guy across the line know that it’s gonna be a long night. It’s all about controlling the mental aspect of the game.”
That’s Auburn (Auburn, Ala.) linebacker Reuben Foster’s ultimate aim.
As arguably the most feared defensive presence in high school football, evident in his No. 1 positional ranking in the Rivals150, Foster said that when he delivers violent blows to the opposing team’s stars he’s “not trying to break their bones, just their spirit.”
“The goal is to make them fear me out there, especially the star,” said Foster, an Auburn commit. “So I make sure I give them that tough hit. They might get up, but usually it’s just so they won’t look weak. But they know and when they know, it’s over.”
Hines knows that mindset all too well, which makes the bottom line even clearer.
“You know they’re out their hunting you, but you’ve got to hunt them too,” he said. “Even with the ball in your hands you can deliver a blow. The key is to strike first. Whoever does that has the upper hand.”